Home > Identity Theft > 8 Signs Your Identity Has Been Compromised

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While frequent data breaches may have desensitized some consumers to identity theft, it’s still important to pay attention to early warning signs your info is being used illegally, no matter how creative, silly or transparent a scam may seem.

“For the most part, identity thieves are sophisticated, dogged and damn smart. They take advantage of distraction and trust and look for the slightest crack or crevice to crawl into our lives,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, an identity theft services company. ” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. The potential imaginary opportunity you miss could end up saving you time, stress and money.”


“[Some signs] can be sort of amusing, but they’re all terrifying,” says Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for anti-virus software company Norton, since compromised personal information can lead to big financial woes. Norton estimates in 2010 more than 74 million people in the U.S. were victims of some form of cybercrime, leading to $32 billion in direct financial losses.

To help you avoid adding to these losses, here are some early signs your identity has been compromised.

Your Credit Card Gets Declined for an Unknown Reason

An expected decline can be one of the first signs an account has been hacked into, says Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of network security firm KnowBe4. This is why you shouldn’t be blasé if a retailer says their system isn’t taking your plastic.

Should a card get denied, go home and check your account immediately. If your funds are intact, you may want to call your issuer to see if they can help you get to the bottom of what may have caused the transaction to fail.

Mystery Charges Start Appearing on Your Credit or Debit Card Statements

Strange charges on your credit or debit card account usually mean someone out there is up to no good, but you shouldn’t only be on the lookout for big charges. Crooks who have purchased the number via illegal carder forums will often “test numbers with small purchases,” Merritt says.

This is why you should call your issuer, no matter how big or how small the suspicious charge is. They can help you determine if the purchase is being made illegally or was simply a mistake. For instance, a clerk may have keyed in the wrong account numbers when processing a transaction over the phone or another shopper may have reversed some numbers on the card while shopping online. If the charges are tied to a bigger issue, your credit card company can also help you ensure the fraud remains an isolated incident.

“They’ll walk you through the next steps,” Sjouwerman says.

Merchandise You Didn’t Order Shows up at Your House

It’s also a bad sign if merchandise you don’t recognize gets delivered to your doorstep, since its sudden appearance could mean someone has gotten access to one of your online shopping accounts. While using the credit card on file, they may have forgotten to change its default shipping address, Merritt says, leading to the unexpected gifts.

If this does happen, call the retailer to arrange to have the merchandise returned. You should also change the password associated with the compromised account and call your credit card issuer to have the card replaced or flagged for future fraudulent activity.

A Debt Collector Calls You for a Debt You’ve Never Heard Of

If a debt collector starts calling to a collect on a debt you’ve never heard of, someone else may be putting your identity to use, Sjouwerman says. This is why, as tempting as it may be, you can’t ignore the calls after initial contact. Instead, find out as much as you can about the purported debt in question so you can determine if it is, in fact, being attributed to you, then take these steps to have it eradicated.

8 Signs Your Identity Has Been Compromised (cont.) »

Image: B Rosen, via Flickr

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  • M

    Decades ago the initial “L’ became attached to my name as a middle name. I do not have a middle name and think that my mother’s middle name somehow became attached. The only thing that I can think of why that happened is when she co-signed a loan for me. No matter who I notify, or speak to, I cannot get this off of my record. Any suggestions?

  • Jess

    I didn’t send SSN or bank accounts

  • Jess

    I emailed my personal information and correct resume to a a few email scams thinking it was a job opportunity. Stupid of me I clearly did not read the post right by doing so. I don’t have too many credit cards so should I still be worried? My piece of mind is a little off

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Jess —
      Monitor your accounts and credit reports and scores carefully. (This is something everyone should do, worried or not. IF there is a problem, you should be able to detect and address it more quickly.
      Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

  • HazelDust

    I had a guy call me saying he is doing a suvery for gallop or something like that. He never asked for credit cards or SSN Email etc but he did however ask weird question like my height foot size health problems political view sexuality race, questions like that. Is it just a government call did to political voting so forth or is it a scam.?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It could just be a poll. Hard to say.

  • Nafis

    is it still considered identity theft if someone gave u the information say a grandson used his grandma and grandpa visa card and they knew about it so he buys u a game and the card is still linked to tht device and he knew about tht, so later on his grandma and grandpa changed their visa information so know we cant use it because it say wrong information and the old 1 is useless a month later as i was going thru play station store i was able to pre order games without the card , but what we didnt know tht the stuff we pre ordered was used on the old card and it some how was linked to the new one and basically it was a big mistake tht we made because i wasnt the 1 who put the card information on the ps3 it was the grandson and now im accused of fraud and identity theft 4 something i didnt do he volunteered 2 used the card 4 the games 1 month ago thts Y his grandma changed their visa card.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I am not sure I understand who you are in this scenario and why you are being accused of id theft. This doesn’t sound like identity theft but I am still not sure I understand what you are asking.

      When you authorize someone to use your credit card, you agree to be responsible for all the charges they make, even if you tell them to only use it for limited purchases.

      • Nafis

        i dont need to know any more sony and the bank payed them it was a mistake thanks for the help any way sry 4 the typos inthe last message

  • John the idiot

    Can anyone help me does this sound like identity theft? I try to sign up for a free credit score and my information is 100% correct I mean I have three documents to prove it but it says my information can not be verified each and every time then I keep on getting calls about this Johnny Washington guy who has been using my number repeatedly for his insurance and other stuff so what do you think?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I’d recommend you get your credit reports (not scores) asap from AnnualCreditReport.com. If you cannot, they will require you to request them by mail. In the meantime, contact each of the bureaus and request a fraud alert be placed on your reports so your information is not compromised while you investigate.

  • Jess

    I recently went to a credit score site but while I was filling the info questionnaires I had never lived at none of the places there records said and it says there records say I purchased a vehicle I have never bought and they couldnt give me my score or report cause all the stuff there records said i had done i never did WTH ? what should i do ?

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      Hi Jess —

      This is a common problem that consumers come across when they go through an identity verification questionnaire like the one you used. There are a couple of possibilities here. First, there can be “trick” questions on these tests that show accounts you don’t have — there should always be an option like N/A or “none of the above” that you’re expected to select if you don’t have the car loan. The second possibility is that you could be an identity theft victim and someone has used your information to buy a car, which is why you don’t recognize the information. The third is that your credit file could have been mixed with another person’s file and there’s inaccurate information on your report that’s been mixed in accidentally.

      You should follow through with getting mailed copies of your free annual credit reports and call the credit bureaus to dispute any inaccurate information.

  • BeckyB

    I had my credit card number stolen from an online order. I had 3 declined transactions and the card company cancelled that card and issued me a new one. I have yet to get the new card BUT I have no received an order in the mail and a $316 charge to my account. I have called the card company to flag that one also. My question is, do I have to return the merchandise that was sent to me that I didnt order??

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Becky – Contact the company that sent you the merchandise, explain that you didn’t order it and ask them to provide you with a return shipping label so you don’t have to pay for the return shipping. If they tell you to keep it, fine, but otherwise it could look like you are the scammer and you don’t want that!

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  • Gina

    My took the credit card in my divorce my card was then used by my boyfriend unknown to me . I bankrupted the card but they are now after my ex 6 years later. Other credit cards were quickly dismissed but the credit union because there was another name would not? Now what does one do? Not fair to my ex! Or both of us .

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Your ex was a fraud victim and if he properly reported the fraud at the time it happened, it shouldn’t have wound up in collections. (That’s assuming that you never authorized your boyfriend to use the card.) It’s going to be hard to clear up now, so long after the fact. The good news is that charge offs – which I assume is how that card is being reported? – can only be reported 7 years from the date the account was charged off. So it sounds like this should be coming off his credit reports soon anyway. Quite honestly, that’s probably the easiest way to deal with it at this late date.

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  • Becky

    The sad thing is identity theft is not new just more covered these days. Over ten years ago, I had a CLOSED bank account hijacked by my ex husband’s girlfriend. We thought we had destroyed everything by burning but missed one checkbook. It was resolved quickly on my end thanks to handwriting comparison but she was a pro and took him for over 50,000 dollars…some of which I think the poor man is still paying off…Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you lock things down when it’s someone you trust…

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  • hallie

    My idenity thieft protection monders my name(my chacter), my drivers license, my social security number, my medical records, and my finicial information. They send me an email every month and let me know the status of my information. Then I contact them and give them some information and they go to work for me.

  • not for me

    Here we are, looking at a site for the first time, and what does it REQUIRE???
    Only SSN, Name, Addr etc. Just the things we are told not to supply.

  • Ray-Ray E.

    Nice article for reminder tips. Please check your credit reports and scores thru the 3 legit credit agencies once a year! It’s so important these days. Here is my story: 1.) Last year, I was hacked with a charge I didn’t make on my credit card statement (got that straightened out and received a new card). 2.) this year, a “representative” (which was a scam, from a company I used to be with), called me for a “special offer”. I wasn’t thinking and gave the person my bank debit card number. Next day, 3 expensive purchases were on my bank statement and my bank called me about them. My bank issued me a new bank card and PIN#. Then I called 1 of the credit agencies and they put a fraud alert on my credit report. So all 3 agencies has the alert on it. Although it was very time consuming, it was worth it! So now I watch EVERYTHING that sounds suspicious. So go with your gut instinct if it doesn’t sound right!

  • http://credit.comonmsn john moore

    Twice I”ve have my identy stolen, once a 15 yo stole it from the Red Cross Mail, while on community service. He would pick up there mail stealing money and idenity from training records. I recieved bills for products he purchased in my name, took a lot of legg work to get it resolved. Twenty years later it happened again, I suspect it was stolen at a car rental agency while on vacation. JC Penny called an said I haden’t paid my bill, only issue was I never have a card with them. I was able to resolve this issue after months. It was a very stressfull time, doing police reports and many phone calling to bring it to a concolusion, too this day its unknow it the thief was caught.
    John M

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  • rickky nickky pickky

    your righto’ Dilly Davis, credit reporting bureaus are responsible for enabling identity theft. if each person had to be contacted personally before opening any new account, at a phone number specified on the account or LOCK your credit data, ID theft is not possible. LOCK your damn data people.

  • Scott Palmer
  • Dillon Davis

    First, identity gets stolen because the credit reporting industry is the enabler of identity theft. If you do not place a lock on your reports, those mercenaries will gladly, willy-nilly, sell your information to almost anyone. (The correct and the incorrect information). Many states have laws that allow us to lock our credit reports for our own protection, and can open them temporarily, with a code provided by the credit reporting company. We can’t make the industry issue correct information, but we can stop them from selling what belongs to us without our knowledge. (And, having the credit reporters pay us for what they sell would be nice too….:)

    • Dre

      I was saying the same thing how easy it seems to be able to get in. Anyone can guess those simple questions they ask. I sent them a comment stating this!

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  • linda campbell

    thank you for the free info.

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